| Photo by Steve Rhodes via Flickr/Wikimedia
NEW YORK — Fast food workers are protected from being fired, laid-off, or have their hours reduced by more than 15 percent without just cause or a legitimate economic reason under a new provision of the City’s Fair Workweek Law, which goes into effect July 4. Workers can immediately enforce their rights in court through a private right of action.
The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) will begin enforcing the Just Cause provision on Sept. 2. Beginning in January 2022, workers also can request to resolve their complaints through binding arbitration by a DWOP administered panel of arbitrators.
“For too long, fast food workers—a predominately minority and female workforce—have been treated as if they were disposable and yet they have been there for us on the frontlines throughout the pandemic,” said DCWP Acting Commissioner Sandra Abeles. “These workers deserve better and no worker should be left jobless for unjust reasons – ever. This vital law will bring additional stability to the lives of these low-wage workers and ensure they can’t be fired on a whim.”
Under the new Just Cause, fast food employers:
- Cannot fire or reduce hours without just cause. Employers must give workers who passed their probation period retraining and an opportunity to improve and can only fire underperforming workers after giving them multiple disciplinary warnings in a year or for egregious misconduct.
- Cannot lay off current workers except for economic reasons. Layoffs must be in reverse order of seniority, with the longest-serving workers laid off last.
- Must give a written explanation for firing, reduction of hours, or layoff.
- Must give laid-off or current workers priority to work newly available shifts. Employers must advertise open shifts on posters in the restaurant and by text or email. Employers can only hire new workers if no laid-off or current NYC workers accept the shifts by the posted deadline.
Under the Fair Workweek Law, which went into effect in November 2017, fast food employers in New York City must also give workers regular, predictable general schedules, two weeks’ advance notice of their work schedules covering specific dates, premium pay of between $10-$75 for schedule changes, and the opportunity to work newly available shifts before hiring new workers. Fast food employers cannot schedule workers for a morning shift the day after a night shift unless workers consent in writing and are paid a $100 premium to work the shift.
Similarly, fast food employers must obtain workers’ written consent before adding any time to their work schedules with less than two weeks’ notice and may not penalize them for declining to work. Under the law, retail employers must also give workers advanced notice of work schedules and may not schedule workers for on-call shifts or change workers’ schedules with inadequate notice.
“The new Just Cause provision signifies a major boost to the protections that the tens of thousands of NYC fast food workers were enjoying under the local Fair Workweek Law,” said Maria Figueroa, Director of Labor and Policy Research at the Worker Institute, Cornell University-ILR School. “This new provision not only grants workers with protections against wrongful discharge, but also empowers them to exercise their workplace rights without fear of retaliation. The enactment and implementation of Just Cause is an example of effective local level policymaking to achieve worker protections. The hope is that additional cities across the country will replicate this approach to improve labor standards in the fast food industry.”
Fast food employers must post the new NYC Fast Food Workers’ Rights Notice in English and any language that is the primary language of at least five percent of the workers if available on the DCWP website. Starting this month, the DOWP said it would be conducting a series of educational walks and roundtables to educate workers and employers about the new protections.
“With its new “just cause” law, New York is leading the nation in providing fast food workers badly needed relief from unfair firings. And the City’s outstanding Department of Consumer and Worker Protection can be counted on to help employers and workers understand their rights under this important new law,” said Paul Sonn, State Policy Program Director at the National Employment Law Project. — (Jay Domingo/PDM)